Lunchtime Links

  1. Interview with a secessionist
  2. Ducking questions about capitalism
  3. The perverse seductiveness of Fernando Pessoa
  4. Yet in this simple task, a doffer in the USA doffed 6 times as much per hour as an adult Indian doffer.”
  5. Conflicted thoughts on women in medicine
  6. The Devil You Know vs The Market For Lemons (car problems)
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More regions contemplating independence?

The historically great city-state of Venice is contemplating independence from Italy. “Over two million residents,” nearly half of the total population, “of the Veneto region took part in the week-long survey, with 89 percent voting in favour of independence from Italy.” The  Indipendenza Veneta party believes that the centralized Italian government is unable “to stamp out corruption, protect its citizens from a damaging recession and plug waste in the poorer south.” Venice joins Catalonia and, for better or worse, Crimea this year in considering breaking away from it’s central government. Catalonia’s request for an independence referendum denied by the Spanish prime minister while we all know how long Crimean independence lasted.  All is not lost however.

These types of referendum must be celebrated by libertarians throughout the world. The further decentralization of governments is a goal that can directly lead to a freer, more libertarian society and will serve as a siphon weakening governments worldwide. To quote, as I do so often, the great Murray Rothbard:

“Once one concedes that a single world government is not necessary, then where does one logically stop at the permissibility of separate states? If Canada and the United States can be separate nations without being denounced as in a state of impermissible ‘anarchy’, why may not the South secede from the United States? New York State from the Union? New York City from the state? Why may not Manhattan secede? Each neighbourhood? Each block? Each house? Each person?”

Why not indeed.

Secession and libertarianism – Ukraine Edition

The most basic rule of schoolyard behavior is this: Don’t challenge the school bully if your knees are buckling under you. Mr Obama keeps ignoring the rule, with predictable results: One tyrant, one despot after another receives his confirmation that the USA is no dangerous, no matter what you do. Thinking the US in not dangerous is very dangerous for the world. I keep challenging the ones and the others, including mainstream libertarians, to say what will, or should replace the pax americana that has given us relative peace since 1945. No one cares to answer.

This introduction, not by way of beginning to argue that the US should have gone to war over Crimea. I don’t believe it should have; I don’t even think the US should have risked war ever so little because of Crimea. I think rather that Mr Obama should have been absent, with a pass for the nurse’s office, for example. Neither am I being pathetically “realistic,” here. Mine is a principled position. Let me explain.

Anyone who has any libertarian fiber but who maintains his criticality should be instinctively in favor of secessions. Two reasons.

First if being governed is an assault on individual liberty, being governed by those who are unlike you in some fundamental way is a doubly liberticide. Fundamental differences include, but are not limited to, language. That’s because your language largely determines the way you see the world and your sensitivities, what’s important to you as a person. Governors who have different beliefs, who operate on the basis of different assumptions, who nurture different dislikes than you are bound to commit slow rape on you every day of your life. That’s true even if they harbor zero hostile intention toward you. And that’s unless you volunteer, of course, as many immigrants like me – do.

I wish good luck to the Catalan independentists and to the Scottish autonomists. I would even if you proved to me beyond the shadow of a doubt that powerful economic interests undergirth their efforts. It’s true that Catalonia is more prosperous than the rest of Spain. It does not prevent Catalans from feelings how they do. They probably would, if they were less prosperous. I don’t know if the Scots would like to split from the UK absent North Sea oil but, if they do, they do, and that’s it. I believe, of course, that the Tibetans have had a solid claim for secession for all the time they have been under Chinese rule. (And, yes, it may well be that the objective quality of their lives has improved under Chinese Communist Party dictatorship.)

Am I saying that it’s better to be oppressed by those you think of as your kin?

Yes.

The Crimean population overwhelmingly wanted secession from Ukraine. Without the presence of Russian guns, the referendum would have been, maybe, 76 % in favor rather than 96%. The final result would have been the same. It’s not difficult to entertain this double thought: Putin is a gangster and the Crimeans would rather be Russian citizens.

Speaking of Putin: The fact that he used exactly the same arguments as Hitler in 1939 does not logically imply that he did something like dismantling and gobbling up independent Czechoslovakia. The Czechs and the Slovaks, were not volunteers the way most Crimeans are. The annexation of Crimea by Russia changes little to all this. (See below.) Crimeans did not feel Ukrainian, overall and they were tired of being very poor under the Ukraine. They would rather be moderately poor as Russians. It’s not hard to believe either.

The second reason for libertarians to favor secession instinctively is that rational people cannot treat the boundaries of nation-states as if they were sacred, the way most governments pretend to do. At best, one could argue that that fiction contributes to world stability. (I doubt it but it’s not a stupid position.) Rather, the borders of existing nation-states are often the result of centuries of sometimes successful wars (France), or of recent shameless robbery of one’s neighbors (the US), or of colonial bureaucratic insouciance (Iraq). In some cases, the tracing of boundaries looks like a joke: Take for example the long penis-like extension of Afghanistan into China in the eastern part of the former country. The mapmaker, probably a junior English officer must have chuckled with relief in his loneliness.

National boundaries may be useful or even indispensable (to control entry, of undesirables, for example) that makes them a necessity, or a necessary evil. Nothing confers on them a status above critical thinking: Sometimes, the violation of existing borders should not be countenanced; sometimes, such violation deserves only a shrug.

Note with respect to the present annexation of Crimea by Russia following this secession, I am saying nothing about the ensuing strengthening of the Russian kleptocracy. The encouragement of tyrants inherent in the Putin impunity also belongs in another essay.

The fact is that the prevention of secession has always produced tons of mischief, most of it violent, much of it an affront to basic human decency.

Hitler used the existence of a sizable German minority in a strategically important part of Czechoslovakia, of smaller Hungarians-speaking and of Ukrainian-speaking smaller minorities elsewhere to start World War II. It’s possible, even likely that Hitler would have used another excuse absent this one. But linguistic minority aspirations gave a cover of semi-legitimacy to his aggressive action. Without such legitimacy, it is quite conceivable that British and French public opinions would have demanded that Hitler be stopped while it was still possible. (The whole sorry story of Western passivity and vacillation in 1938-39 is recounted in minute, hour-by hour detail in William Shirer’ s classic: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.)

In more recent times, we witnessed violent and massive ethnic cleansing in Kosovo , the three-year long siege of a large city one hour flight from Rome, Sarajevo, and the starvation and daily bombing of its civilian population, and the massacre of thousands of men and boys, also in Bosnia. Most of these horrors could have been avoided by finely wrought enough secessions, even at county level if necessary.

A contrario examples abound of the healthful, virtuous nature of secession as a solution to intercommunal tensions. Some come from the most unlikely places.

The dissolution of Czechoslovakia – a radical form of secession – in 1993 was so peaceful that it went almost unperceived . The resulting Czech and Slovak Republics have since continued separately on their fairly prosperous paths. They maintain sound relationships as good neighbors (as very good neighbors, more or less like the US and Canada).

Paradoxically, today’s Iraq offers a striking example of the virtuousness of secession. The world follows with a tired eye Iraqi Arabs eviscerating each other along communal lines. That is, the Sunni Muslim Arabs there and the Shiite Muslim Arabs there are slaughtering each other every day, same as when the presence of Americans was said to cause all the murderous civil strife. Many Sunnis and many Shiites consider themselves members of existentially different groups. They do so for reasons that are probably difficult for Westerners to understand (except those who remember the Wars of Religion in Europe, of course, between 1520 and 1648.) It matters not; as far as they are concerned, those are reasons worth killing and dying for. Keeping them bottled up together, forced co-habitation, is not likely to attenuate these sentiments. (Think of ill-matched college roommates.)

In the meantime, you hardly ever hear of the Northern third of the same country, bloodied Iraq. I refer to “Kurdistan,” still formally a part of the Iraqi republic. Kurdistan, which does not exist officially, is people mostly by Kurds, a group with a distinctive language unrelated to Arabic. They comprise both Sunnis and Shiites. As far as the facts on the ground are concerned, Iraqi “Kurdistan” has achieved secession from its bloodied mother country. No shot was fired in spite of the quick-trigger violence of the Middle-East. The Kurdish area is so prosperous and so peaceful that others go there on vacation. The vacationers are first of all, Arabs from other parts of Iraq seeking relief from incessant violence in their part of the country. Second, Turks are crossing their southern border in increasing numbers for the same purpose . (May of those Turkish tourists are probably themselves ethnic Kurds.)

And we should not lose track of the fact that the 25 years of Saddam tyranny over all of Iraq, accompanied by internal massacres and two wars he started deliberately found what legitimacy it possessed in the supposedly sacred duty to keep Iraq unified. (Keep in mind that the Saddamite regime utterly lacked traditional legitimacy and religious legitimacy, or the political legitimacy that comes from winning fair elections, or any other source of legitimacy.)

Had Iraq broken up earlier into a Kurdish north, a Sunni center and a Shiite south, the world and, especially, the martyred Iraqi people, would have been spared enormous misery. It’s not too late to achieve this end.

I am speculating that many people’s unexamined attachment to the general concept of national border harks back to an earlier time, a time when they were coterminous with economic boundaries and with information boundaries. Not long ago, French citizens ate almost only French food, they wore only French-made clothing (there was even a lively traffic in illegal, smuggled blue jeans), and heard and read only news originating in France in French. All was produced almost entirely with French capital. National boundaries were then the very containers of our existence defined in the most concrete ways. None of this is true anymore for most countries. Borders are porous to most things including words (if not yet to people). Many people are thus ready to fight for a reality that disappeared quite a while ago.

A major more or less unintended effect of this pursuit of ghosts is that it easily turns to bloodshed, domestic and international. So, many Spaniard are resisting the threatened secession of Catalonia as if it would become a catastrophe of sorts for them. There is still little realization that nations that perceived themselves as homogeneous (for whatever reason) are spared major conflicts, including civil conflict. Homogeneous Denmark, with a similar level of development, is more peaceful than bi-community (linguistic communities) Belgium. Either a Walloon or a Flemish secession there would improve the lives of both Walloon and Fleming.

Secession is usually a good thing overall, for peace, and for individual liberties. Let them go and they will lose the ability to stab you in your own kitchen with your own kitchen knife. They may even become your friends, after a while.

N.B. I still have not heard anyone, or heard of anyone saying that he regretted voting for Obama. Amazing!

Secession within the EU?

While I’m on the topic of secession, I thought I’d point readers to the upcoming vote in Catalonia to see if they want to secede from Spain. Central to my arguments for secession is the role that new states would have within a broader free trade zone (like the U.S. or the E.U.). For Catalonia, the British paper Telegraph reports:

Catalonia wants to collect its own taxes, to control how they are spent and it seems prepared to break away from Spain to do so.

But with a clear road map yet to be outlined the process of separating from Spain promises to be burdened with hurdles.

While Catalans prize their role as citizens of Europe, EU officials have warned that membership of the union won’t be automatic. Instead Catalonia would have to gain admission, joining the queue of a list of new European nations seeking membership, and the process would likely be blocked by a vengeful Spain.

This is key to not only Catalonia’s success, but also the success of secessionist movements everywhere. If regions within current states want independence, they have to be sure to not confuse political independence with economic independence. The latter will only lead to poverty. I highlight this point because new states formed during the beginning of the post-colonial revolution of the 60’s and 70s thought that economic independence was the key to liberty. How wrong they were. Continue reading

Around the Web

  1. Secessionist Movements in Europe. I have always thought that the EU would be great for more decentralization, but once the central bank became established and Brussels agitated for more political power I knew that the experiment in confederation would become the failure that it is today.
  2. Economist Bryan Caplan on Left-wing historical bias and Benito Mussolini. You’d be surprised what the history books keep out of Italy’s socialist movement…
  3. Has Africa Always Been the World’s Poorest Continent? Be sure to read through the ‘comments’ section too.
  4. Mini-DREAM and the Rule of Law: Executive Discretion. A number of libertarians have come out in support of Obama’s executive order prohibiting immigrants from being deported just for moving here as children, but I am not so sure that this is a good move. Politically, it’s great, especially when one considers the fact that the Obama administration has deported more immigrants in 4 years than GW Bush did in 8. I am more worried about the Rule of Law. It’s the legislative branch’s job to implement immigration policy, not the executive branch’s. As somebody who supports open borders, this is a tough call.

Santa Cruz Vandals, Drums, and Left-Wing Authoritarianism

I live in wonderful times in a wonderful place. Important history is re-playing itself before my eyes. This a sequel to my recent previous blogs (“Freedom Fighters…” and, “The Leftist Municipality….”)

The story has to do with the fact that a few fast-moving people dressed in black caused about $100,000 worth of damage in six or seven storefronts withing three blocks of each other. (The damage cost estimate comes from the local paper. I cannot verify it.) That was in Santa Cruz, California.

The vandals came out of a demonstration of a few hundred young people with no particular agenda, except the usual vague left-wing slogans and a few more about the new Arizona law on illegal immigration . (See my posting on that too: “Illegal Immigration…,” “The Arizona Immigration Law…,” and, “Immigration: More on Conservative….”) It was supposed to be a “May Day” celebration, but May Day is the first of May and the demonstration was on the second. Well, nobody is perfect and this is a beach town.

I did not learn much from the videos on YouTube except that one demonstrator was wearing a tie. There seems to be a consensus that the window breakers were few and well prepared and that they had kept their intentions secret. I believe there were fewer than ten actively involved in the vandalism.

There were no police present at the scene for a long time. I pointed out in previous postings: 1 That the police had other priorities, and, 2 That it was not surprising that they did, given the nature of the city government. Here is more, more blatant evidence. Again, this is contemporary political history in a small capsule. Continue reading